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Player Review: LaMonte Wade Jr.

A career year from one of the front office’s greatest successes.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2023 stats: 135 games, 519 PA, .256/.373/.417 (.790 OPS), 17 HR, 45 RBI 95-76 K-BB, 2.1 fWAR

Happy Birthday, LaMonte Wade, Jr.!

(Yes, he’s a New Year’s baby)

I’m sure the front office has been very pleased with the majority of the results across the organization, but their projections for the major league team haven’t quite worked out in a way that’s made them look like the unimpeachable geniuses that they are*, and so LaMonte Wade Jr.’s fantastic 2023 for the San Francisco Giants deserves extra credit for helping them save face.

I basically wrote off Wade Jr. at the end of 2022 because of his injured-plagued follow-up to 2021 (381 PA; 117 OPS+) that saw him post just an 89 OPS+ in 251 plate appearances thanks to a lingering knee injury that required three trips to the IL. Yet, in the same breath that I dismissed him I gave oxygen to the idea that kept him on the team:

You can always hold in the back of your mind that the Giants have something on these players that we just don’t consider. Like, maybe Wade’s barrel rates or launch angles combined with swing decisions were elite over the final 40 games or something, the results just didn’t back it up; and, this secret figure will be the thing that gets them to hold onto the player, but by every obvious measure, LaMonte Wade Jr. seems destined for a non-tender.

And if you click on that link you can see me ripping on myself for being so foolish. For all the unseen reasons to keep him around the Giants opted to tender him a deal. At basically a million dollars for a 1-year contract, there was no downside. Wade Jr. rewarded them with one of the better on base seasons by a Giants player in the Oracle Park era. Don’t believe me?

Here’s the list of Giants to post a .370 on base percentage or better since Oracle Park opened (minimum 500 PA):

Barry Bonds (2004), .609
Barry Bonds (2002), .582
Barry Bonds (2003), .529
Barry Bonds (2001), .515
Barry Bonds (2000), .440
Jeff Kent (2000), .424
Buster Posey (2012), .408
Buster Posey (2017), .400
Brandon Belt (2016), .394
Melky Cabrera (2012), .390
Pablo Sandoval (2009), .387
Aubrey Huff (2010), .385
Buster Posey (2015), .379
Brandon Crawford (2021), .373
LaMonte Wade Jr. (2023), .373
Buster Posey (2013), .371

I’d say that’s an accomplishment. The 15th-best on base percentage in the Oracle Park era is no small feat. The Giants have had a lot of players come through and failed to avoid outs. Wade’s .373 OBP was also the 8th-best in the NL (13th in MLB). This made him a tremendously valuable leadoff hitter.

He was the best leadoff hitter in the NL through the end of May, and he was straight out drawing walks at an impressive clip. He wound up with 76, good enough for 11th in the NL, two behind Christian Yelich and one more than Trent Grisham & Ha-Seong Kim, but also more than Brandon “8/162” Nimmo.

A week into June, he was simply one of the five best hitters in the National League, much to the chagrin of Chris “Mad Dog” Russo. In this post, I wrote about how Wade’s numbers reflected not only how well he had performed but the Giants’ lineup as a whole. He was one of four hitters in the top 30 by OPS+ (J.D. Davis, Thairo Estrada, and Michael Conforto being the others).

To be clear, LaMonte Wade Jr.’s hitting collapsed along with the rest of the Giants right after they swept the Dodgers in Los Angeles (ending June 18th). Through that series, he slashed .279/.416/.465 (.881 OPS; 269 PA). The rest of the way, he slashed .234/.327/.369 (.696 OPS; 250 PA). He finished strong, though, hitting .292/.392/.508 (.900 OPS) with 4 home runs, a triple, and 10 walks against 7 strikeouts. He wound up being the team’s sole hitter in the National League Top 30 (25th - 119 OPS+).

He played 887.2 innings at first base and Statcast didn’t really like him there, tagging him with a -3 Outs Above Average. He was also a minus in the outfield (-1 in LF). His range (13th percentile), arm strength (5th percentile), and sprint speed (19th) were all well below average and suboptimal for a player who would be more valuable if more versatile. FanGraphs’ -10.8 Defensive Runs Above Average means he might’ve caused the Giants a win over the course of the season. SABR’s Defensive Index, a factor in the Gold Glove voting, tagged him with a -1.5, second to last behind Spencer Steer and just ahead of Freddie Freeman.

A balky knee that limits his defensive contribution suggests he’s best suited as a DH, but as a left-handed hitter in Oracle Park who doesn’t have a dynamic ability to hit the ball very hard (56th percentile Barrel %, 43rd in Hard Hit %, 42nd in Sweet-Spot%), that also seems like an improper fit and so keeping him as a platoon at first alongside Wilmer Flores (whose 136 OPS+ would’ve made him the 8th-best hitter in the NL if the PAs were dropped to 450) makes the most sense for the Giants and means that they don’t necessarily have to worry about upgrading this position for the time being.

LaMonte Wade Jr. is a solid player to have and just by virtue of giving them a consistent on base threat gives the Giants’ usually-struggling offense a fighting chance. Dan Szymborski’s preliminary ZiPS projection for the 2024 Giants showed Wade Jr. putting up a roughly similar line.

Still, he’s one of the four remaining arbitration cases the Giants have here to start the new year. They made deals with Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater relatively quickly, and the delays for Wade Jr., Thairo Estrada, Tyler Rogers, and J.D. Davis could be for any number of reasons including a trade. A 30-year old lefty who doesn’t hit for too much power but does get on base could draw interest from any number of teams, but if he sticks around on the Giants in 2024 they’ll still come out ahead.

*-truly, we must all hold out hope that Farhan Zaidi & co. really are the smartest people in the history of professional sports because there’s no other way the Giants are going to be able to pull themselves out of the muck and back to respectability.